Relationships. We know they could end.
When writers grapple with long-term monogamy, they often turn to the animal kingdom, citing the case of the male and female swan who instinctually mate for life. There’s something profound about the coupling that is embedded into the nature of a graceful animal, as though instinct provides our proof, or works against it. But, I’m turning to the city on a Friday night in late August while I wait at a bus stop.
Here in my neighborhood, the coupling is heightened. On this last night of summer the women wear dresses without straps and sandalled heels. They hold the hands of their partners who are clean-shaven and wearing shirts that close with buttons. Their wallets bulge from their back pockets. I’m on my way to a date, too, and soon I’ll be holding someone’s hand. Tonight, I’m wearing a strapless dress and sandalled heels.
Maybe the relationships before me are transient, amorphous things. Maybe three months of summer in the city seems like a lifetime to a swan, who lives for 50 years instead of 80, and spends it in a pond. In the city, we dodge fire trucks and push buttons to cross streets. We sit at big, brown bars and drink gin and tonics from breakable glasses. We have to talk to people. Our fingers push the screen of our phones: Where are you, my dear? What are you doing tonight? It seems, from experience, that most of these couples will say goodbye. My own relationships have ended, some with painful temperamental bursts, others with the quiet fading of an untended fire. Relationships reach deafening crescendo, then rot as peaches left on counter-tops.
I wonder about the possibility of forever. Can forever with someone else exist for me? My parents had, what I thought, was a marriage that would last, a beacon of love and respect, but then they got divorced when I was 13. If I had been privy to fighting or signs of evil and betrayal would I feel more hope? Would I think I could learn from bad example? Should I write forever off, as I’ve done for years, and take a look at my reflection in glass storefronts while I’m window-shopping and expect divorce? Even the swans, sometimes, when faced with nesting failure, decide to part ways.
On Friday nights, we couple perhaps out of instinct as animals, but also out of hope. We have to believe in forever to get through this night, this week, this month, this year. The cynic in me scoffs and downs another drink, tries not to smile, wills myself not to blush. As a single person, it’s easy to look at statistics: 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. This percentage increases if you marry when you are between the ages of 20 and 24. We see the causes around us: she focused on her career instead of her marriage, he cheated, they never should have married in the first place because they had nothing in common, they couldn’t communicate, he was an asshole, she was a crazy ass bitch.
Where are we going! We’re walking down sidewalks and going to restaurants and coming home to the darkness of Friday nights that are so much sweeter without clothes. We couple out of the instinctual urge for intimacy and ecstasy in the presence of another. But the euphoric feelings are fleeting, unlasting, and soon they’ll turn sour and start to require work.
On this last night of summer, the only thing we can do is be in the moment and pretend that the moment is forever. This deliberate ignorance, this choice to continue, this entrance into ecstasy, this makes us more like people than like swans.